Pasta with Kale and Walnut Pesto

I’ve experienced so many cooking “firsts” since embarking on this real food journey at the beginning of the year. Today’s first? Cooking with kale. I was inspired by the contents of my first Berkshire Organics basket, and wanted a dish to pair with steamed artichokes (also inspired by the basket). I thought this Pasta with Kale and Walnut Pesto seemed like a nice complement. Plus, I already had the cheese, garlic, and walnuts in my pantry. With the kale in my basket, I only had to purchase whole wheat penne and re-stock my pantry with extra virgin olive oil, as I had just run out of my last bottle.

We love pesto around here, so I was excited to try this kale version. The recipe was easy to follow, took no time at all and was really delicious. We will definitely be adding kale-walnut to our pesto repertoire (revision after calculating nutrition information – we will add this to our repertoire for special occasions!).

Pasta With Kale and Walnut Pesto
(shared from Real Simple)
Serves 4 | Hands-On Time: 20m | Total Time: 30m


  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons walnuts
  • 1 bunch kale, thick stems discarded and leaves torn (about 12 cups)
  • 1 cup grated pecorino (2 ounces), plus more for serving (RRFR used parmesan…because that’s what I had!)
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 pound fusilli, penne, or some other short pasta (RRFR used whole wheat penne)


Heat oven to 350° F. Spread the walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast, tossing occasionally, until fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes; let cool. Chop 2 tablespoons of the walnuts and set aside.

toasting walnuts

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Remove the thick stems from the kale with a knife and tear into pieces (I even remembered to toss my stems into my soup stock freezer bag). Add the kale and cook until bright green, 30 seconds. Transfer the kale to a colander (reserve the cooking water); squeeze dry when cool enough to handle.

fresh kale

de-stemed kale

In a food processor, combine the kale, pecorino, garlic, the remaining ⅓ cup of unchopped walnuts, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Process until finely chopped. With the machine running, add the oil through the feed tube in a steady stream.

first ingredients added

kale in processor

chopped pesto

finished pesto

Bring the reserved cooking water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions. Reserve ½ cup of the cooking water; drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the pesto and ¼ cup of the reserved cooking water and toss to coat (add more cooking water if the pasta seems dry).

pesto in the pot

Serve the pasta sprinkled with the pecorino and chopped walnuts.

plated pesto

I also gave a squeeze of fresh lemon over the top of the pasta to cut the richness of the pesto and it was a great finishing touch.

p.s. – In case you’re wondering about the artichokes that were to accompany this dish, well, that was a bit of a kitchen fail. I followed this recipe word for word, yet after 40 minutes, I could not easily pry an outer leaf off the artichoke. Nor after 45 minutes. Nor 50, or 55 or 60. So finally, I just took them out of the pot and set them aside. I have yet to decide what to do with these failed artichokes, nor do I understand what exactly went wrong. Oh well – on to the next!

Notes for next time: This recipe makes a lot of pesto that definitely could stretch beyond the amount of pasta called for in this recipe. Have leftovers? Here’s a how-to on freezing pesto.


6 thoughts on “Pasta with Kale and Walnut Pesto

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